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Experimental sleep disruption attenuates morphine analgesia: findings from a randomized trial and implications for the opioid abuse epidemic.


Preclinical studies demonstrate that sleep disruption diminishes morphine analgesia and modulates reward processing. We sought to translate these preclinical findings to humans by examining whether sleep disruption alters morphine's analgesic and hedonic properties. We randomized 100 healthy adults to receive morphine versus placebo after two nights of undisturbed sleep (US) and two nights of forced awakening (FA) sleep disruption. Sleep conditions were counterbalanced, separated by a two-week washout. The morning after both sleep conditions, we tested cold pressor pain tolerance before and 40-min after double-blind injection of .08 mg/kg morphine or placebo. The primary outcome was the analgesia index, calculated as the change in cold pressor hand withdrawal latency (HWL) before and after drug injection. Secondary outcomes were ratings of feeling "high," drug "liking," and negative drug effects. We found a significant sleep condition by drug interaction on the analgesia index (95% CI - 0.57, - 0.001). After US, subjects receiving morphine demonstrated significantly longer HWL compared to placebo (95% CI 0.23, 0.65), but not after FA (95% CI - 0.05, 0.38). Morphine analgesia was diminished threefold under FA, relative to US. After FA, females (95% CI - 0.88, - 0.05), but not males (95% CI - 0.23, 0.72), reported decreased subjective "high" effects compared to US. After FA, females (95% CI 0.05, 0.27), but not males (95% CI - 0.10, 0.11), administered morphine reported increased negative drug effects compared to US. These data demonstrate that sleep disruption attenuates morphine analgesia in humans and suggest that sleep disturbed males may be at greatest risk for problematic opioid use.

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